Hazrina Zainul Azizdin MPRCA, Director, Archetype Malaysia

Most of us are entering week five of what is undoubtedly the largest telecommuting experiment in history. While some may have settled in nicely to the new normal, delivering proposal after kick-ass proposal, as their gourmet meals simmer on the stove, right after that refreshing morning yoga; others may still be trying to figure out how to change their Zoom backgrounds, as they scoff down yesterday’s cold pizza, while trying to pull their hyperactive children off their work station sofa!

Nevertheless, as remote working becomes increasingly prevalent, so too are articles preaching productivity tips for the homebound. Tips, which its authors, nay, experts claimed to have nailed down to an exact science.

In fact, there is an entire cottage industry of such content, feeding you informative guides like these:

  1. ‘Don’t work in your pyjamas. Put on some pants!’ (or makeup, if you are a woman living in Malaysia, according to a certain directive from a certain ministry). This will supposedly lend an air of professionalism to the day and get you more focused, just like in the office! In fact, why not go all the way and strut around in that power suit while you are at it.
  2. ‘Have a separate home office or workstation’. Apparently, most of us are making bank, living in fancy ‘Crazy Rich Asian’ style mansions and NOT in tiny boxes in the sky where we’d be lucky if we can fit our laptop in the tiny crevice between the sink and toilet bowl.
  3. ‘Set definitive work hours, use a detailed planner and adopt productivity measuring apps.’ Of course, nothing makes you more efficient than installing a military-style boot camp right in your living room. Because we are all distress-proof, self-starters that way.
  4. ‘Invest in the best technology.’ Funny how when you work in the office (or your neighbourhood Starbucks for that matter), a laptop, headphones and an internet connection were all you needed to get going. But at home, you are suddenly required to spend a fortune on sophisticated equipment that would put the Apple Store to shame.
  5. ‘Set clear boundaries away from your family and pets’.Evidently, telling your cat not tear your documents, as your toddler climbs onto the table, spilling juice all over your keypad, as your spouse screams from the kitchen asking you what you want for lunch, is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Anyone can do it.

All of these beg the question; are these tips even realistic? Let alone effective? And would anyone really benefit from them?

No doubt, while some could prove useful to remote workers in specific circumstances, others are too granular to be relatable or applicable to most of us (P.S. Some of us work better sans pants!).

Instead of these oddly specific yet highly impractical solutions, I would argue that, what works best is adhering to a set of dynamic principles, which you can then tailor to your specific working style, personality, and even home living situation.

#1 Adopt a work-first mindset 

It doesn’t matter if you prefer a slow start, taking a nice long shower before logging on or you would rather get up and get going without so much as a glance at your toothbrush. Adopting a work-first mindset ensures that you are committed to getting your work done no matter what.

This means designing your day around your work. That may look different for every single person. But the outcome will remain the same; guaranteeing that your tasks are completed, and your deadlines are met on any given day… even if you are sending that urgent report from your iPad, on the  toilet, at 2.00 am in the morning.

#2 Manage your energy, not your time

While you may feel the urge to clock-off our to-dos as quickly as possible, leaving you with enough time to binge the entire season of Tiger King before bed, it is important to know your peak productivity periods and build your work schedule around it instead.

Your energy waxes and wanes during the day. So, tackle tasks according to how much of your bandwidth they will take and how focused you need to be. Every individual is most productive at different times during the day. But the most important thing to remember is you improve by pushing your practice, not yourself during periods of low energy.

#3 Be flexible… experiment and evolve

What worked for you on day one, may not necessarily continue to work for you on day 20, (or day 50 for that matter, depending on how long this thing goes on). Our lives constantly change, and settling into a prolonged remote working arrangement may require some tweaks along the way.

You may be a cross-fitter one day and a couch potato the next. Likewise, scheduling frequent video check-ins with each team member may seem like a good idea at first, before you realise that you probably don’t even miss them all that much and that emails and messaging apps would do the job just fine.

As the developments around COVID-19 remain highly fluid, it is important for you to build a high degree of flexibility into your routine. Not only will this make you more productive, it will also help you become more adaptable to changes beyond your control.

Ultimately, productivity tips are just that, tips. Not gospel truths or laws that bind you to the corporate world for all of eternity. You may experiment with some of them and they may very well work for you. Nevertheless, how you make remote working a success is entirely dependent on how well you know yourself. Adopting this principles-based approach will create and strengthen that self-awareness. This will empower you to create your own system that is not only effective but fulfilling and rewarding in the long run.

As for those pants? They can remain optional.